On This 15th Anniversary of 9/11

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If you follow me you know that I’m a proud NYC girl – maybe too much so. But I was in Manhattan on one of the days that I wish I wasn’t.  I was in Manhattan on September 11, 2001.

I didn’t work in/right near the World Trade Center, but I was close enough. I worked in a building on 15th and 9th Avenue, which is just over 2 miles north of Ground Zero.  This building has huge beautiful windows.  On any other given day, the view was incredible. That day, the view was life changing.

I specifically remember walking from the train to my office that morning because it really was a picture perfect day.  I’m not one to get captured by the weather and scenery so much, but this day was beautiful.  The sun was shining and it felt amazing.  That slight feeling of the end of summer, but such a sunny and gorgeous day in the city.

I went to work a little earlier that day, as my boss and I had to review something that was due to an Executive Team Member.  I was at my desk around 8:20am and my boss and I started chatting in her office around 8:30am.

8:46am: Folks sitting near the windows screamed. A plane just crashed into one of the Twin Towers! My boss and I ran out of her office to the windows. What was going on? Wow, that’s scary?  It looks like a small plane crashed into building.   Oh my, those poor people.   While the plane was burning, some of us trickled back into our offices to do work. As sad as it was, it seemed to be an accident.  A small plane crashed into the tower.  Sucks – we’ll hear more about it soon, but we had work to do.

9:03am: Still working in my boss’ office, we hear more screams.  A plane hits the South Tower. Holy – whatever this was, it was NOT an accident.   Many employees ran to towards those windows.  And those planes weren’t small planes either.  These windows showed us everything.  And I mean everything – some of the images you saw on the news, we saw live.

I called my husband who was home in Westchester about 30 miles north of New York City. He was supposed to be traveling to San Antonio that morning, but actually received a call the night before about a change in his flight time.  His flight to was changed from a 9:00 am-ish flight to a noonish flight.  The very thing he was annoyed for the previous evening, he was now thrilled about – because if the flight wasn’t changed, he would have been in the air during the attacks.  I said to him “I don’t think you’re going anywhere today.”

Around this time President Bush calls the events in New York City an “apparent terrorist attack on our country.”  New York City was shut down.

Those amazing beautiful windows showed us such uncertainty that day.  The whole office just stared  – maybe looking for answers, hoping this was the end of the attacks, and not understanding how/why this happened.  We were frozen.  Was our building next?  Was the whole city under attack?   Many tried to reach friends and family members to make sure they were okay. Remember this was 15 years ago and we certainly did not have the social media and top notch cell service that we do today.

What now? Do we stay at in the offices? Do we leave? What is safer? Many of us who lived in the outer boroughs and suburbs were stuck.  Would we ever make it home?

9:59am: The South Tower collapses. Imploded.  No warning. In one quick second that building was no longer. What a surreal view of just seeing one tower standing. Soon after, many folks started leaving the offices, myself included.  Colleagues hugged like they didn’t know if they’d see each other again.  No words.  Just hugs and tears.

10:28am: The North Tower collapses as we exited our office building.  Walking the streets mid-morning in Manhattan was like never before. The city that doesn’t sleep was asleep. People were quiet, stunned and seemed to be walking aimlessly, but at the same time grateful that they were not in/near the Twin Towers.  My boss and I walked across town to meet grab my mother at her office and then headed to a local hospital where her husband worked.  This hospital was on 19th Street and too far north for any of the injured to come to.   And as her husband plainly stated – there likely were not enough survivors to be treated.

11am: Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called for the evacuation of Lower Manhattan south of Canal Street, including more than 1 million residents, workers and tourists, as the efforts continued throughout the afternoon to search for survivors at the WTC site.  Amid all of what was going on in New York, a plane crashes into the Pentagon and another in a field in Pennsylvania.

I don’t remember how long we were there, but we sat in this hospital for hours watching the same reports on TV over and over again.  The afternoon progressed and there were more questions than answers, but thankfully there were no more attacks.  The uncertainly of “what next” consumed all of my thoughts. My saving grace is that I had my mommy there with me.

Hours later the transportation started to resume, but would we make it home?  What if there’s a bomb on the train?  We hemmed and hawed, with some fear about the commute, but wanted out of Manhattan in a bad way.  Slowly we walked approximately 20 quiet and sad Manhattan blocks to the train station to our commuter rail.  The train ride home was filled with stunned and silent commuters, but we were on our way.   There were many thoughts about commuters who started their day coming in to the city on this very train, but weren’t going to take the train back home that day – or ever.

I recall being happy that I hadn’t had children yet.  In a weird way, I was actually mad at my parents for bringing me into this world.   I don’t have stories or survival or stories of heroism.   I wasn’t covered in soot from head to toe.  I won’t pretend that I experienced anything close.  But I was there and saw it unfold live.  And as much as I ached for the people who died, were hurt and their families, admittedly I had selfish thoughts too.  “Thank goodness I did not work there. Wow, I could have been on the plane traveling to California.  What will life be like now?  Would there be other attacks? Would I get hurt?, etc..”

Unbelievably, I did not personally know anyone who we lost that day.  I knew “of” people – folks from college, friends of friends and gentleman who lived in our building.  There was also a colleague whose sister-in-law happened to be in town from Chicago for a meeting at the towers.

But then there was a teammate of mine, whose father worked on the 104th floor of one of the towers.  She was with us staring out the windows that day.   We watched with her – not knowing if he father survived or not. Regrettably, he did not.

I did not want to be a New Yorker that day or for many weeks/months following. Why did I live in a huge terrorist target?  The first day back at work, bunch of us met in Grand Central and took the subway together.  Maybe we felt safety in numbers somehow? As time wore on, I grew less weary of the commute and being in Manhattan. I think it’s an innate trait of humans to be able to carry on.

I posted this status on Facebook on the anniversary of 9/11 last year:

Days after 9/11 I stood in the local bagel store reading a note from a customer thanking them for messing up her coffee order on that day. Because of this, she missed her train and didn’t get to work on time. She worked in one of the towers…..That screwed up coffee order saved her life. 💔 Wishing lots of peace & love to those I was with on that day and sending the most special thoughts to those who lost loved ones. And remember the next time the deli worker has to redo your order cause he put mustard on your sandwich and you really wanted mayo, it might just turn out ok.

9/11 was a third of my lifetime ago –  15 years. I’ve moved on from my job in the city since then, changed careers, and moved further north.  And I have 2 children who will learn about this event as a part of history.  They have in small doses, but they’re a little young to learn about it in school yet.  My son and I have discussed 9/11 a bit and I have told him that I was in NYC that day. I don’t think he can fully comprehend it.  The same way that I probably couldn’t fully comprehend events in history that my parents lived through.   I recall when I was younger and learning about events that my parents were alive for –  and thinking how interesting it was that they lived through this very thing that I was learning about in school.   As my son learns more about 9/11, I wonder if he will have the same thoughts….”My mom was there.  She saw it happen.”  Yes, my love, I did. And I hope you never have to experience anything even remotely similar.

Never Forget.

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